But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. (Acts 8:9 ESV)
Human greatness is nothing new. We celebrate great athletes and movie stars and political leaders today with awards and ceremonies and praise. Our skyscrapers and monuments and exhibits bear witness to great human achievement. Human beings attempted a similar thing in Genesis 11 when they built the Tower of Babel, saying, “let us make a name for ourselves.” Because of our sinful nature, our very first idol is the idol of self, exhibited in the aggrandizement of humanity.
Jesus Christ, God in flesh, called men to the opposite end of the spectrum: humility. He preached that his followers should humble themselves, bear their crosses, serve one another, and love their enemies. Jesus taught many things and one thing is crystal clear: the way of Jesus is one of self-denial, not self-promotion.
In the Book of Acts, Jesus’ message of self-denial continued to be preached in the world through the early church. And thus, the humbling message of the gospel would come into direct contact with the self-aggrandizing message of the world. Who would win?
In our passage, Acts 8:9-25, we encounter quite the boastful man in Simon Magus. He is a magician of sorts (whether by trickery or by demonic power we’re not told) who has captivated the attention of the people of Samaria. They believed he had “Great” power and he himself said he was “somebody great.”
We may not all relate to Simon in this way. Many of us are more introverted. However, regardless of whether you or I promote ourselves publicly, we are all prone to think more highly of ourselves than we should. We treat ourselves with care. We think of ourselves first. We fight for our lives. We serve ourselves.
But when somebody “great” meets Somebody Greater; that is, when a self-promoting sinner comes into contact with the humility-promoting Christ, something is bound to change. One of two things will likely happen: the self-exalted human will be humbled and worship and follow Jesus, or, the self-exalted human will reject Jesus only to be humbled at the end.
What happened to Simon? In our text, he claims to believe and is even baptized! Seems like a victory. However, he goes on to try to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit with his money. In response, Peter rebukes him sharply and Simon asks for prayer. Luke records nothing more about Simon, and thus we are left questioning whether his salvation was genuine or not.
God doesn’t see fit to tell us. The way in which Luke was inspired to write Acts seems to indicate that Simon’s faith was not genuine. But regardless of whether he was truly saved and needed repentance from indwelling sin, or if he was a phony, his life was dramatically changed from that day forward. Jesus Christ will have the final word, whether in saving Simon from the bondage of his sin, or in judging Simon for his rejection. Simon may think of himself as great, but Jesus Christ is greater.
As we come to this text on Sunday, let us consider those things in our life that we give greater importance than to Christ, and be willing to respond to the Spirit’s conviction by turning from them.